Many consumers got comfortable with online shopping during the pandemic, engaging with brands and other shoppers in a virtual sense, but nothing beats the authenticity of in-store experiences. Tango, a leader in Store Lifecycle Management (SLM) solutions, conducted a consumer survey which found that 85 percent of Americans cannot wait to get back to in-store shopping, but they will also be expecting more out of their experiences.
Bridging the Gap Between Online & In-Store
James Le Compte, founder and CEO of To’ak Chocolate (toakchocolate.com), a luxury chocolate brand, says that having a consistent brand message and experience both online and in store is important, but consumers are looking for brands that can bridge those two differences and create a seamless experience. Ensuring this is what has helped his chocolate brand increase sales by 460 percent during the pandemic. Beginning as a direct-to-consumer online model back in 2014, just as Compte tried getting their chocolate on retail shelves, the pandemic hit and threw the biggest curveball in their growth model.
“The more we started to research about what other brands were doing that were purely direct-to-consumer online businesses, we started to understand that we were only scratching the surface with an online store that worked well and looked good,” Compte said. “You need a website that is easy, pleasant to navigate, and works seamlessly, but those are really just the basic requirements. From there, we started to learn about how we could engage and build a rapport with customers in an efficient and scalable way. We have a small team with 12 of us mostly focused on the production of chocolate, so we needed something that was efficient and scalable, and email is still today the most effective way of reaching your existing and growing database of customers.”
Email is King
To’ak Chocolate moved from delivering simple emails with messages saying they had an announcement to keeping in touch regularly with customers and sharing smaller, but interesting topics of content on a regular basis. The brand also started to implement some email marketing automation, so rather than having a generic abandoned cart email, they put together a series of emails that will go out to that shopper over the course of three to four days that touch on different reasons why they may not be ready to make that purchase. These reasons range from sharing more about the company’s backstory to talking about some of the unique selling points of their products, all the way through to satisfaction guaranteed and information on shipping insurance, in case customers are worried their chocolate might melt during shipping.
“I think email is one of the best ways a company can communicate with their clients,” Compte said. “But we do not rely only on email — we also use paid advertising, social media, blogs, and from time to time, we reach out to the press through PR agencies. It is good to have a healthy mix, but email is a channel that gives viewers the opportunity to tune out of the day-to-day operations and open up a different type of email.”
Elevating Brick-and-Mortar Interactions
For their in-store experiences, Compte is currently working on implementing a traceability and storytelling solution by way of QR code on all of their products. This allows shoppers in stores to scan the code and see special photos and videos offering key bits of information about the product. This helps to deliver that crossover experience between online and in store that consumers are looking for.
Another great way to elevate the brick-and-mortar shopping experience is through interactive displays. “For us, chocolate is something that really engages the senses. I have been looking and seeing some great in store displays, especially from one of our retail partners. In their wine room, they have interactive displays to educate consumers around different aromas, so they set up different stations where shoppers can try the aromas. That crossover with education and experience, particularly when working in a field like ours, changes the perception that chocolate is just a candy.”
All of the hard work does not stop there. Compte has a strategy in the pipeline where To’ak will come out with a range of flavored chocolate bars, which is currently one of the fastest growing segments of the chocolate industry. These additional flavors and cheaper price points will ultimately help the brand to expand their retail footprint. Just like Compte, indie retailers should never stop trying to better their business and do their research on what types of products consumers are into, especially once the pandemic ends.